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Can We Now Predict When A Neutron Star Will Give Birth To A Black Hole?

A neutron star is perhaps one of the most awe-inspiring and mysterious things in the Universe. Composed almost entirely of neutrons with no net electrical charge, they are the final phase in the life-cycle of a giant star, born of the fiery explosions known as supernovae. They are also the densest known objects in the universe, a fact which often results in them becoming a black hole if they undergo a change in mass. space and science black hole is in space science

For some time, astronomers have been confounded by this process, never knowing where or when a neutron star might make this final transformation. But thanks to a recent study by a team of researchers from Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, it may now be possible to determine the absolute maximum mass that is required for a neutron star to collapse, giving birth to a new black hole. space and science black hole is in space science

As with everything else relating to neutron stars, the process by which they become black holes has long been a source of fascination and bewilderment for astronomers. As the densest of all objects in the known universe, their mass cannot grow without bound – meaning that any increase in mass will also cause an increase in their density. space and science black hole is in space science

Artist's illustration of a rotating neutron star, the remnants of a super nova explosion. Credit: NASA, Caltech-JPL
Artist’s illustration of a rotating neutron star, the remnants of a super nova explosion. Credit: NASA, Caltech-JPL space and science black hole is in space science

Normally, this process will cause a neutron star to simply achieve a new state of equilibrium, or will result in a non-rotating neutron star beginning to  spin. This latter effect will allow it to remain stable for longer than it could otherwise, since the additional centrifugal force can help to balance out the intense gravitational force at work in its interior. space and science black hole is in space science

However, even this process cannot last forever. As Professor Luciano Rezzolla of Goethe University told Universe Today via email: space and science black hole is in space science

“If the star is nonrotating, then this mass is not too difficult to compute and is called the maximum nonrotating mass, or M_TOV. However, this is not the largest mass possible because if the star is rotating, it can sustain more mass than if is not rotating. Even in this case, however, there is a limit because there is a limit to how much a star can rotate before being broken apart from the centrifugal force. Hence, the absolute largest mass that a neutron star can achieve is known as the “maximum mass of a maximally rotating configuration”, M_max.  This is the largest possible mass of the most rapidly rotating model. Suppose you have built such a model: if you added a single atom onto it, it would collapse to a black hole, while it would break apart if you spun it a bit more.” space and science black hole is in space science

As neutron stars accumulate mass, the speed of their rotation will increase; and here too, there is a limit. Basically, sooner or later, a neutron star will reach its absolute maximum mass and beyond this, it will inevitably collapse in on itself to become a black hole. Unfortunately, in the past, astronomers have had a hard time determining what the value of this limit was. space and science black hole is in space science

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